McConnell Challenges Party Faithful

Posted January 29, 2009 at 3:28pm

In a sober address at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting Thursday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) challenged GOP colleagues to get to work after two bruising elections cycles that have seen the party lose ground among women, minorities and regions across the country.

“Too often we’ve let others define us, and the image they’ve painted isn’t very pretty,” McConnell said, not so shyly hitting Democrats.

“Ask most people what Republicans think about immigrants, and they’ll say we fear them. Ask most people what we think about the environment, and they’ll say we don’t care about it. Ask most people what we think about the family, and they’ll tell you we don’t — until about a month before Election Day,” the Minority Leader added.

McConnell’s speech came one day before RNC members are set to vote on their chairman. The current chairman, Mike Duncan, who led the party through the bruising 2008 election cycle, is running again for the post and is — like McConnell — a native of the Bluegrass State. The Minority Leader, however, has remained neutral in the race and brushed off questions about whether the RNC should have a new leader after an election that left Republicans with fewer seats in the House and Senate.

“There will be no single messenger,” McConnell said after his address, noting that with no Republican in the White House for the next four years, the party will have several spokesmen instead of one president. “We’ll let 1,000 flowers bloom.”

McConnell said the party could bloom by “expand[ing] the spectrum of people who vote Republican,” specifically to include racial minorities, and by reaching out beyond the southern region to court strong candidates and active party members from Maine to California.

“The Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one,” McConnell said. “In politics, there’s a name for a regional party: It’s called a minority party. And I didn’t sign up to be a member of a regional party.”

As he reflected on the losses of the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, McConnell touched on issues that the party must focus on in the future, including energy independence and the environment. Party members must explain “that our policies are developed with a human being in view, not just an abstract principle,” he said.

McConnell pointed to Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.), who ousted incumbent Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) last year and is the first Vietnamese-born candidate elected to Congress, as a bright spot for the party. As he ended his 10-minute address to a packed ballroom at the Capital Hilton, McConnell called on colleagues to look to Cao’s story as inspiration moving ahead.

“Every so often, there comes a time when a political party has to re-examine itself. For Republicans, now is such a time,” McConnell said.